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It is Memorial Day here in the United States. I want to honor all the men and women who have served in uniform for our country in defense of freedom and human dignity, and who have responded to our country’s call; especially those who have been injured, and most fervently to the families of those who, as Lincoln noted, “gave their last full measure of devotion.” May we all honor that sacrifice.

The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who do not take sides during a period of crisis. ~John F. Kennedy

The historical origins of Memorial Day date back to the days after the Civil War when towns decorated the graves of soldiers who had died in that conflict. Hence the other name for this holiday, “Decoration Day.” Waterloo, New, York was officially recognized by Congress as the first city to officially hold a Decoration Day, which it celebrated on May 5, 1866.

It is generally agreed that the first national celebration began with the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization of Union veterans. An unknown veteran wrote to GAR Adjutant-General N.P. Chipman who took the idea to GAR Commander-in-Chief General John Logan who issued the proclamation that appears below. In 1887, Congress finally recognized Memorial Day as a legal holiday for all government employees.  Memorial Day History is a site with more history.

HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC

General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

  1. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

    If other eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

    Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from his honor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

  2. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.
  3. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.By order of

    JOHN A. LOGAN,
    Commander-in-Chief

    N.P. CHIPMAN,
    Adjutant General

    Official:
    WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

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